Judge Gordon Sullivan warmed up to this Ice Cube movie.
Our review of First Sunday (Blu-Ray), published April 28th, 2008, is also available.
Keep the faith. Steal the rest.
Ice Cube continues his transition from AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted to Mr. Are We There Yet?, and this time he brings Tracey Morgan, Katt Williams, and Chi McBride along for the ride. As a comedy, First Sunday is hit-or-miss, but as a story of redemption and doing what's right, it's a feel-good movie I don't mind recommending.
Facts of the Case
Durell Washington (Ice Cube, Are We There Yet?) is a guy who can fix anything, but he's going nowhere because he keeps getting into scrapes with his buddy LeeJohn (Tracy Morgan, Saturday Night Live). LeeJohn's latest scheme has the pair delivering pimped-out wheelchairs across town for some Jamaican gangsters. When the two get caught by the cops (losing the chairs in the process), they get stuck with five thousand hours of community service and $12,000 in debt to the Jamaican. If that weren't bad enough, Durell's going to lose his son if he can't come up with seventeen grand to keep his son's mother's hair salon open. Without the cash, she's packing them up to Atlanta, and with Durell's record, he can't leave the state. In desperate straits, Durell and LeeJohn decide to steal the building fund from a local church. When they open the safe, they realize someone has beaten them to the punch. They decide to hold the inhabitants of the church hostage to find the culprit. Naturally, things don't go quite as planned.
First Sunday gets a lot of mileage out of its "Oh no, they didn't" storyline. Having two would-be hoods rob a church is funny enough, but to have them discover that someone more respectable-looking has beat them to it is the icing on the cake. This fish-out-of-water element is the most consistently funny element of the film, and Ice Cube and Tracy Morgan milk it for all its worth. However, I didn't find it worth that much as a comedy.
Katt Williams is the funniest part of First Sunday. I would say I laughed out loud at seventy-five percent of his lines, and his looks are devastatingly funny. He goes for completely over the top and hits it out of the park every time. Tracy Morgan, however, didn't really do it for me as LeeJohn. Really, it's not his fault, since I don't find "dumb" characters funny. I wish they'd given him a few more physical moments of comedy, since those were his funniest. Ice Cube is the straight man for the entire film, and he succeeds more often than not. When he's on, he does the exasperated (but caring) friend like nobody else, but sometimes he coasts by on the fact that he just looks like a heavy guy. The dramatic part of his performance was uneven, but got better as the film progressed.
First Sunday really gets it right in the dramatic department. The film weaves two threads, the father/son relationship and the robbers/church-goers relationship, and lets them drive each other to effective emotional heights. I didn't laugh much throughout First Sunday, but I found myself getting choked up at the end when everything gets resolved. First Sunday has a message about parental responsibility, but it never gets preachy or boring. Instead, it succeeds in presenting positive images of parenting, something lacking in a lot of comedies no matter their audience.
In terms of drama, the actors acquit themselves nicely. Chi McBride (who I last saw on in a role the opposite of this one on House, M.D.) plays the pastor with easy authority. Malinda Williams is fun as pastor's daughter/love interest, while Regina Hall plays the former flame and baby mama. Michael Beach stands out as the oily deacon, and Keith David deserves a shout out as the judge who gives our heroes the five thousand hours of community service. Morgan handles his dramatic duties well, turning on the pathos when he gives the audience LeeJohn's back story.
Sony gives us First Sunday in an appropriately appointed package. Director David E. Talbert claims he was going for a gritty, John Landis feel for the film, and this transfer does the grit justice. The audio is pretty excellent for a comedy. Although there is little directionality, the dialogue and music come through clearly.
There are also enough extras to fill a collection plate. David E. Talbert's commentary is interesting, although he gets a bit repetitious. He spends a lot of time on the casting, set design, and his theories on making movies. He's engaging, and his insights are worth a listen. There are some deleted scenes, most of which are extended scenes that flesh out dramatic moments, with optional commentary by Talbert. After the deleted scenes, we get a gag reel with the usual flubs. In addition, there's a section of outtakes from both Katt Williams and Tiffany "New York" Pollard. Williams is hilarious in his scenes with spot-on improv. Pollard's pretty funny as well, although I find her character gets obnoxious more quickly. There's also a wrap speech from director David E. Talbert. It's a nice emotional moment, the kind of thing we don't often see from directors. Finally, there's a fact track that plays over the movie giving out bits of info, including some much-needed explanation of some of what the Jamaicans were saying.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I didn't dig the Mordecai scene. Tracy Morgan's performance was great, but I could see the gag coming from a mile away (not to mention it's been done before). It slowed everything down and added an unnecessarily sleazy element to the film.
Those looking for another Friday film will be disappointed. First Sunday is closer to Are We There Yet? than it is to the Friday franchise.
I didn't laugh much during First Sunday, but I'm certainly glad I watched it. While the drama that underpins the comic elements worked really well for me, others may be more inclined to appreciate the film's comedic charms. Whether you watch it as a comedy or a feel-good drama, it's worth a look if the trailer or premise piqued your interest.
First Sunday is not guilty. Praise the Lord.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary with Director David E. Talbert
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